Kenai holds tourism summit

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2003

KENAI - About 50 people gathered for a summit last week to discuss ways of making the Kenai Peninsula more of a tourist destination.

Participants at the summit Friday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center agreed that a top concern was marketing the peninsula as a tourist destination apart from Anchorage.

The discussion also focused on developing a distinct brand to market the area's attractions, improving facilities and infrastructure, and conducting research on the visitor industry.

Seward lodge and charter business owner Paul Carter said the peninsula should start by distinguishing itself from the rest of the Southcentral region in the state travel planner, which is sent to prospective visitors.

"What would people think of (us) being our own category?" he asked. "Let's start developing the Kenai Peninsula as its own destination."

Summit participants liked the idea of being identified as a travel destination independent of Anchorage.

"Breaking off from Anchorage is probably the best thing you can do," said Merlin Cordes, a Homer hotel owner. "A lot of people go to Anchorage and don't know we're here."

Participants also discussed the need to raise funds to support some of the suggestions.

"If you look at other boroughs, they're funded, and it's sustainable," said moderator and Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Director Jim Carter.

Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau Executive Director Ricky Gease suggested the peninsula adopt something similar to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough's bed tax.

"Mat-Su is our largest competition," he said. "They have hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they are using money from visitors to say to visitors, 'Come up here."'

But, several business owners and tourism professionals argued that a boroughwide bed tax is not acceptable.

"What motivation is there to want a bed tax?" asked John Faulkner, owner of Land's End hotel in Homer. "People are in favor because lodging is an easy target. A lot of people who promote it are paid by it."

Kenai River Lodge co-owner Stephanie Green of Soldotna also didn't like the idea of targeting lodging facilities.

"Just because a bed tax is widely accepted, doesn't mean it's fair," she said. "All businesses, down to nail salons, benefit."

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